The Costume Institute Ball at the Met on Monday night was a multi-car smash up of epic proportions. The theme of the exhibition:"American Woman: Fashioning a National Identity" was suitably vague. Though, judging from the images of the multitude of celebrities, designers and their model/socialite/actress dates there was lots of loveliness roaming the vast halls . For all the beautiful dresses that were chosen there were even more that were questionable in terms of modernity and practicality. Those two watch words are supposed to be the back bone of the American woman.
Instead, Anna Wintour as the supreme exception in a platinum, reed slim, ruched column under a platinum paillette covered cardigan, there were too many women opted for gowns with absurdly long trains. These sorts of gowns make for very complicated and time consuming photo ops, and it's ALL about the photo op. One needs at least one helper if not two to arrange the train and hem of the gown to its most flattering angle before the camera can shoot. Every step the woman takes is treacherous , for the simple fact that it stands to reason the gown will be trampled. To be practical, one should hold it over one's arm or at lest grab it with one's hand to keep it from harm's way. Then the whole process of arranging it has to take place all over again. The receiving line to greet Ms. Wintour, Oprah Winfrey in couture Oscar de la Renta and Partick Robinson of Gap, Inc., all chairpersons of the evening, calls for unfurled trains, again, and the very real fears of a stepped on and destroyed dress.
Though I wasn't invited, I had this great idea to chronicle a beautiful young woman who was going for the first time with her date, the son of a very prominent designer in New York. Ulla, a strikingly beautiful German model had invited me over to photograph and discuss her preparation and thoughts about this legendary right of passage. It seemed like a very interesting and intimate angle and one I was excited about. She found me through the blog and asked my opinion on her gown choices. We were both unanimously in agreement on the gown to wear. It was a modernist, hand painted print on what looked like a long a-line gazar with an illusion top. It was strict , simple, Charles Jamesian in aspect and totally modern. I didn't know until later that it was a gown from Oscar's collection. I loved it. I told her she would stand out in the most interesting way because it would be a gown in stark contrast to the over the top choices that are the staple of that sort of event. Better to be a drop dead beauty, an unknown quantity in a fantastic gown than someone in an unwieldy flotilla. Chic, modern less is always best in my book. Ulla had it going on , and best of all, she was ready for a party, not bent on making her debut. Natural trumps Forced in my book.
At the last minute there was a boiler blast in her building and workmen were coming to the rescue in the midst of the preparations and it was decided that it was best for me to not come. I understood the need for as little chaos as possible and wished her and her beau a wonderful evening and settled in for the night. Immediately after signing off I got a sore throat and a migraine. I took a hot bath and climbed into bed at 8 and spent the night awake in a semi-delirious state. I felt incredibly ill until I finally lost consciousness around 4. In my half waking, half dying state I thought about the evening imagining beautiful gowns, all sleek and languid. I saw Cate Blanchette, Lauren DuPont, Liya Kebede, Diane Lane, and an assortment of beautiful, interesting women dressed as though coming off the set of a Grace Coddington shoot. In my mind's eye this all translated to smoky, sexy sleek American glamor. Perhaps , I was still feeling the effects of Halston's Love Hangover and imagined a world of a cool beauty removed from the conventions of the obvious; the school of more is more. It was a fever dream an a beautiful one at that. Then I woke up.
I went to the computer and started to look at the images of the night before and clearly my dream did not line up with the reality that is the Costume Ball. Anna got it right, as she often does. The thing that's brilliant about her brand of jadedness is that she's for the most part a very practical girl. She doesn't need the grand gesture to make her point. She couldn't be bothered with a cumbersome gown that she has to fight all night. Just a nice Chanel Couture gown, a little blond highlight and blow out and voila,done! Donna Karan was so on. So were ALTalley and Whoopi Goldberg is serious ChadoRalphRucci.
The rest of what I saw was a mix of Jersey Transit, Long Island Railroad, one or two Amtrak Acelas and a few D Trains. All together it was a massive train wreck. Sophie Theallet for Gap (I can't believe this is a Gap gown, I don't care what anyone says) on Jessica Alba was one of the prettiest of the evening, despite its train. Sarah Jessica Parker in sunburst pleated poly chiffon for her new Halston Heritage line was predictably gauche. Chloe Sevigny was cute in her short green Proenza, a first, but the boys looked like their usual grim,serious,camera ready pouting selves. They should change their meds which cause extreme self absorption and try some happy pills. A smile can go an awful long way. Sour pusses with Elvis pompadours look very down market as does Chloe from the neck up. Donatella Versace looks like the beast standing on the tracks that set off the multi car mash up.
There's too much to show and I hate stories that sit and dismiss this one and that one. That is a matter of opinion and perception and I'll leave that to you. I do wish that designers would take into consideration this obsession with gowns that are more scaled to the proportions of ships. It's no fun to have your dress trampled and torn. It's also not terribly of this century. Just look at Zac Posen's gown for Doutzen Kroes (at right in pale blue) and see what I'm talking about. He should be fined for that colossal MESS, and she should be banned for having chosen it.
The Reading List….Conflict and Costume by Jim Naughten
44 minutes ago